#1
Should a guitar solo be improvised or composed?
What makes it more exciting? Is it the thrill of connecting to the moment, trusting your instincts and letting your fingers run free... or planning the ultimate composition - one that has been crafted, polished and well practiced on the fretboard.

Perhaps, it's a mixture of both worlds. An improvisation that sticks in your head and gets played over and over again - each time with a small alteration, a slight improvement to the primary improvised solo.

Some of the greatest guitar solos seem to be at least partly composed, as the player plays them identically live every time. Some examples of that include: Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits) The Wall (Pink Floyd) Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns and Roses), For the Love of God (Steve Vai) and many many more.

What do you think????
#3
Quote by dannymanor
Should a guitar solo be improvised or composed?
What makes it more exciting? Is it the thrill of connecting to the moment, trusting your instincts and letting your fingers run free... or planning the ultimate composition - one that has been crafted, polished and well practiced on the fretboard.

Perhaps, it's a mixture of both worlds. An improvisation that sticks in your head and gets played over and over again - each time with a small alteration, a slight improvement to the primary improvised solo.

Some of the greatest guitar solos seem to be at least partly composed, as the player plays them identically live every time. Some examples of that include: Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits) The Wall (Pink Floyd) Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns and Roses), For the Love of God (Steve Vai) and many many more.

What do you think????


For your own music, it should be whatever you want it to be. It's a mistake to idealize and say that 1 way or the other is "better" or "proper" or whatever.

Do what comes natural to you.
#4
Yeah, personal choice. Sometimes when you're improvising and you're really feeling the song (cheesy, I know )you can get some awesome licks, but I like to compose my solos. When I'm rehearsing a new song with my band and I didn't write a solo, I improvise, and if I like something I did I keep it for the final solo.
Also, only improvising can get your solos to sound very repetitive. There's a lot of guitarists where I live that don't compose their solos and only improvise them but they sound the same, since they're mostly stuck to the same licks and don't really listen to much music other than whatever the style they play. I'm not saying you have to, but to be able to make great soloing only by improvising you'll need a very good ear and know to play what you're hearing in your head, and these guys don't.
#5
When I'm writing, I always improvise for a while and see what patterns form. Then I start hitting those patterns on purpose and improvising the links between them. Then once I'm hitting the same patterns each time without any newly improvised parts, I consider the solo to be composed.
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#6
I think most of the time when you improvise over the same song, you'll notice that you use same licks and same kind of melodies in your solos. So if you notice that certain licks work in it, I think you should just use those in your solo. I don't see a point in playing it differently every time. Jazz is a bit different because many jazz songs are based on jamming and improvising. But if it's a classic rock/metal song, they usually have written solos. Or maybe originally improvised solos but then the guitarist has found out the licks that work best and uses them every time he plays the solo.

When I play solos for my own songs, I may try different stuff by just improvising over it. Or then a melody starts ringing in my head and I compose the solo. But yeah, it depends on the genre. Some solos are really iconic and need to be played the same way every time. "For the Love of God" by Steve Vai also has improvised parts. He doesn't play it the same way every time. But the basic melody is the same. Because the song doesn't have a singing melody, guitar needs to play the melody. The song is not only a guitar solo - it does also have a guitar solo part - but it's more like a song for guitar. Guitar solo always makes me think of a short, (half) improvised section in a song. But that song certainly has different melodies, a bit like verse and chorus. It's an instrumental piece, not a guitar solo IMO.
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#7
I often compose and almost never play, as in, I write all of my music in Guitar Pro with no instrument in my hand, I don't really touch the instrument until it's time to record the song, so of course my solos are meticulously planned. However, I did one time end up improvising a solo in one of my songs when I realized I couldn't play what I had actually wrote. I improvised for about a half hour and pieced what I had together, and then worked out a couple harmonies, and it turned into one of my favorite parts of my upcoming album, so I think everybody should at least try it every once in a while.
#8
I personally enjoy improvised solos more, but perhaps that's cause i am very much into jazz, fusion and blues.

To me a solo is to used to say something and just being honest. I want to keep things fresh and say what i have to say at that time, not saying the same thing for 30 years.

As said though, it depends on the style and the setting. I generally, 99% of the time would go for improvisation though.
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#9
Quote by dannymanor
Is it the thrill of connecting to the moment, trusting your instincts and letting your fingers run free...


You have to be a really, REALLY advanced guitarist to do this well. Most people, even professionals guitarists aren't.
#10
Quote by Sethis
You have to be a really, REALLY advanced guitarist to do this well. Most people, even professionals guitarists aren't.


Emphasize doing it well. Most people who practice "improvising" as 98% of their practice routine are just mindlessly wanking.
#11
For me it's a mixture of both, depending on the song. If I have a strongly melodic song (a ballad or so) I always compose the solo note by note to be as good as possible. With fast songs, or bluesy stuff, I usually make a makeshift construction and improvise along it - meaning that there are a few parts of the solo (like beginning and ending, usually) that are pre-composed and the rest is improvised... I find this to work pretty well.
#12
i do both in my music
some songs the solo is very written and i need to play it the same everytime the solo is part of the song and very recognizable and often longer solos

other songs where i have 4 or 8 bars or so to play i improvise and try to play different things everytime(once i played fur elize when found myself playing the starting notes)

theres a couple songs where its sort of mixed the beggingn of the solo and the end is written but i leave myself room for improvisation

i personally like to write my solos but i dont often have the time from writting the song so i improvise until it gets written
#13
I've been playing blues / jazz-blues for a while now and I guess that's why I tend to improvise more in the last couple of years.
Lately I've been getting back to my roots (rock) and that brings me back to composing solos.

It is an interesting process, isn't it? From reading all your replies it seems like most of us mix both methods.

When I started playing (at first I was self taught) I would improve as a performer by composing riffs and solos that I couldn't yet play. So I needed to practice my way to be able to play what I was hearing. Back in those days we had no computers that could notate and play back so you only really knew if your ideas worked after you were able to perform them...

I love that feeling when you improvise and just zone out into your imagination. It's a trip!
#14
Quote by dannymanor
Should a guitar solo be improvised or composed?
What makes it more exciting? Is it the thrill of connecting to the moment, trusting your instincts and letting your fingers run free... or planning the ultimate composition - one that has been crafted, polished and well practiced on the fretboard.

Perhaps, it's a mixture of both worlds. An improvisation that sticks in your head and gets played over and over again - each time with a small alteration, a slight improvement to the primary improvised solo.

Some of the greatest guitar solos seem to be at least partly composed, as the player plays them identically live every time. Some examples of that include: Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits) The Wall (Pink Floyd) Sweet Child O' Mine (Guns and Roses), For the Love of God (Steve Vai) and many many more.

What do you think????

i like to improvise. i always think if i wrote a solo, then i could write a better one later when i'm better. so i just leave myself open to making a better solo. plus that's my chance to really go off and express what's in the moment. there are some songs that i have little planed out stuff, sometimes no solos at all. i think it depends on the song. some songs seem to lend themselves to improv while others sound better when you write out something or just do something around the melody. sometimes in the studio i'll improv and remember parts i like and then keep doing takes until i have a planned out solo or part of one made from improv takes. for the most part, it's just improv.
#15
Quote by Sickz
I personally enjoy improvised solos more, but perhaps that's cause i am very much into jazz, fusion and blues.


But even most jazz players aren't completely improvising their solos.

We now have access to so many different versions of the same song by Miles Davis or John Coltrane that we can hear how their playing of it progressed, and while they didn't play it note-for-note every night, they definitely tended to approach it with the same point of view - you hear a lot of the same ideas in multiple performances. Sometimes the solos are very similar.

I think great musicians who really create everything from scratch very time they play are extremely rare.
#16
Quote by HotspurJr
But even most jazz players aren't completely improvising their solos.

We now have access to so many different versions of the same song by Miles Davis or John Coltrane that we can hear how their playing of it progressed, and while they didn't play it note-for-note every night, they definitely tended to approach it with the same point of view - you hear a lot of the same ideas in multiple performances. Sometimes the solos are very similar.

I think great musicians who really create everything from scratch very time they play are extremely rare.


I didn't say all of it had to be improvised though. I just don't like the idea of playing the exact same thing over and over again, or if you write a solo that it's going to be that solo for that song for all time forward.

As you said, they had ideas they liked and used more often, but they also tried new approaches and tested themselves. That's what i like about improvisation, you get to test your ability to come up with something musical on the spot. That being said, there are tons and tons of people who are crap at it (myself included), but those few that can play something different every night and are "just playing" is what i love.

As said though, it's a question about taste. Many constructed solos sound better than improvised ones, but i still like improvisation more.
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”


Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
#18
Hey Sean, Of course there are no trophies given... I really wanted to have a open discussion about it and hear other people's thoughts. It's an interesting process and just as you said - works differently every time with respect to what the music needs.

As a teacher you probably know how challenging it can be for students to come up with a good solo. They learn the scales and theory but still they find it hard to get it together. I work with them on different techniques of improvisation (form, phrasing, motiv and variation) but also will sometimes compose a solo with them. Many times that gets the ball rolling.

D
#19
A very important and often overlooked step in getting good at both writing and improvising solos is learning to play existing solos. It helps you develop your ears, your technique, and feel.
#20
I believe most guitarist just take the melody of the original solo and improvise around it. That's why so many solos aren't very consistent live (they only have to make the solo somewhat recognizable). Honestly composed solos aren't really any better than improvised solos (it's like comparing "Apples and Oranges"). I agree with GuitarMunky all the way about the importance of learning and practicing others' solos.
#21
I prefer to compose a solo, and then practice it like crazy until I'm comfortable enough to play it effortlessly. At that point, I start kind of improvising around it, throwing in little licks and runs here and there, wherever it feels good. If I'm in the studio, then at that point, I'll record the solo half a dozen times, with various improvisations, then listen to them all and pick a favorite to actually put on the track.
#22
Improv. I've tried composing solos but I always forget them when I try to play. It's not that I can't remember the notes, it's just that I play what I'm feeling at that moment, and what I'm feeling then isn't what I was feeling when I wrote the solo.
#23
Hey GuitarMunky, I totally agree - learning existing solos is a must and the best way to grow as a player. and If you are a creative player it will immediately inspire you with ideas for your own solos too.
Nowadays with play along tabs and youtube instruction videos showing you exactly how to play, it's a fast and very accurate way of learning the solo / riff / tune, however, it does take some of the thought process and ear training away. I remember watching a interview with Nuno Bettencourt and he talks about it. he basically says that learning with today's tools makes you a copycat and the best way is to learn it by ear and play it (position and fingering) as you feel it.
#24
Quote by dannymanor
Hey Sean, Of course there are no trophies given... I really wanted to have a open discussion about it and hear other people's thoughts. It's an interesting process and just as you said - works differently every time with respect to what the music needs.

As a teacher you probably know how challenging it can be for students to come up with a good solo. They learn the scales and theory but still they find it hard to get it together. I work with them on different techniques of improvisation (form, phrasing, motiv and variation) but also will sometimes compose a solo with them. Many times that gets the ball rolling.

D



I think you bring up good points. How I like to do it, is at first get their ears used to playing all over the neck, and internalizing the sound of the "pitch collection" - their notes against chords from a given key, and usually the chords are diatonic, though sometimes I'll throw in a bVII.

Later, I teach them to "compose their ideas" by intentionally tagging chord tones, and so they may improvise, but at the same time, deliberately sustaining or accenting on a strong beat, as the chords change - outlining. This way, whether they compose an entire solo note for note, or "improvise" according to an understanding of notes on the neck, their diatonic and "outside chords", their soloing sounds more "on point" and deliberate rather than carpet bombing scales and widdling without real control over what they say.

Best,

Sean
#25
Quote by dannymanor
Hey GuitarMunky, I totally agree - learning existing solos is a must and the best way to grow as a player. and If you are a creative player it will immediately inspire you with ideas for your own solos too.
Nowadays with play along tabs and youtube instruction videos showing you exactly how to play, it's a fast and very accurate way of learning the solo / riff / tune, however, it does take some of the thought process and ear training away. I remember watching a interview with Nuno Bettencourt and he talks about it. he basically says that learning with today's tools makes you a copycat and the best way is to learn it by ear and play it (position and fingering) as you feel it.


Yeah, I'm talking about learning them by ear & playing them by memory... and I do agree with Nuno, though I'm not concerned with the copycat part because that's part of learning. To me it's a matter of listening, and doing what's appropriate for your skill/knowledge level.

The main problem with todays tools is that they enable beginners to convince themselves they've bypassed beginnerdom. They skip the basics and go right to learning the most amazing solo ever via tabs or video on YouTube. On top of that, they study theory by chasing down the most appealing advice containing the fanciest words, having no idea whether or not those words are used appropriately.
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Nov 18, 2013,
#26
Quote by Sickz
I didn't say all of it had to be improvised though. I just don't like the idea of playing the exact same thing over and over again, or if you write a solo that it's going to be that solo for that song for all time forward.


But isn't this close to as much of a myth as the completely-improvised solo?

Even extremely iconic solos (Comfortably Numb, Sweet Child of Mine) get tinkered with around the edges in live performance.
#27
learning solos note for note can be a challange..depending on the tune..steely dans early work had some monster players..the solo on reeling in the years was (and still is) a very tasty solo..and a bitch to play ... on tour.. dan would have different players and the solo..while similar did not have the same "feel" even though they had top players in the group..

a tune like hotel california..the eagles play note for note day in and day out..walch is a super player and of course could throw in riffs and licks..but that is not what the audience wants to hear..they WANT note for note...with the same level of feel and energy...

so is it being less creative to play the same solo note for note...for me to play with the same level of energy and feel night after night takes quite a bit of work..and you could be play the exact same notes but it will not be the same solo with out the energy and feel put into it...

wolf
#28
Many times a solo is a composition on its own. For example Sweet Child o' Mine - there's a whole new melody in the solo that needs to be played note for note. But then the ending solo ("where do we go now" part) is more free because it doesn't have that stand out melody. I'm pretty sure the ending part was improvised when they recorded it.

If you want your solo to be more melodic, I think it needs to have some written parts in it.

Some solos need to be written (Sweet Child o' Mine, for example), some sound good if they are played differently every time (AC/DC solos for example).
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Nov 18, 2013,
#29
^ Are you kidding? AC/DC's "different" songs even sound the same, let alone their solos.

Interviewer: "You've made 10 albums which all sound the same."

Angus Young: "That's a filthy lie, it's 12."



That's a joke, obviously, I love AC/DC.
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#30
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Many times a solo is a composition on its own. For example Sweet Child o' Mine - there's a whole new melody in the solo that needs to be played note for note. But then the ending solo ("where do we go now" part) is more free because it doesn't have that stand out melody. I'm pretty sure the ending part was improvised when they recorded it.

Don't know how true this is, but I heard that whole section exists because Axl forgot the words & just started singing "Where do we go now?" because he wanted someone to tell him what was supposed to happen, then the rest of it was improvised around him.

It could be lies, but it makes for a good story.
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#31
hey wolflen, Good point and Hotel California is a great example. But for me, the question is not so much how or why they play it after it the way they do live. I wonder how that solo (Hotel California) came about. I imagine they played the song so many times before they went to the studio to record it and so it started with improvisation and eventually became composed (or better say structured). Plus both guitarists riff on each other and take turns soloing. I would love to discover that the iconic ending with the guitars playing in harmony was created one night as they were trading solos and just locked into that arpeggio idea.. and later they crafted it to be perfect. I don't know if that happened but one can dream, right?